Terry Bean cites free speech to battle bribery claim
Battling in two courts over allegations of child sex abuse, prominent Portlander Terry Bean has launched an unusual new legal gambit: claiming his freedom of speech is under attack.
His lawyer filed a motion Monday morning claiming that a $6 million lawsuit filed by Bean's alleged victim violates Bean's First Amendment rights, citing Oregon's anti-SLAPP law intended to block "strategic lawsuits against public participation."
The case in which Bean, a major Democratic donor, filed his motion was sparked by a lawsuit filed by a former alleged victim known as "M.S.G." M.S.G. is at the center of an on-again, off-again criminal prosecution of Bean that is now heating up in Lane County.
Bean's motion is the latest development in what some legal observers say is one of the strangest legal sagas out there, featuring a nationally prominent activist, a criminal prosecution revived after a three-year dormancy, a new lawsuit filed by an alleged second victim on Friday, and allegations made in court that three local lawyers may have participated in obstructing justice — which they all deny.
The current case is significant not only because of Bean — who is a hero to many because of his activism on gay marriage — but because it highlights Oregon's sometimes-controversial civil compromise law. In Oregon certain criminal cases can be dismissed if the defendant agrees to pays the victim a negotiated sum and the judge approves it.
This case is a great example of why many prosecutors don't like the civil compromise law, which benefits people with the money to take advantage of it.
It also can make those cases look a lot like a payoff.
"Offering someone a quarter million dollars (to settle a case) looks like bribery," said former Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis. "But as bizarre as it sounds, civil compromises are allowed under Oregon law."
Bribery claim disputed
The civil lawsuit filed by M.S.G. in March claims Bean had sex with M.S.G. in September 2013, when the boy was 15, and then bribed M.S.G. to prevent him from testifying in Bean's 2015 criminal sex abuse trial.
Bean's new motion claims the bribery portion of M.S.G.'s lawsuit must be thrown out. It argues that because Bean's agreement in 2015 to pay MSG $220,00 stemmed from what Bean's lawyer characterizes as legitimate settlement discussions, M.S.G.'s new lawsuit constitutes an attack on legitimate expression.
"Plaintiff's bald assertions of bribery, witness-tampering and fraud lack even minimal merit," wrote Bean's lawyer, Clifford Davidson.
The motion has added significance because the same arguments being made in civil court could wind up being made by Bean to defend himself in criminal court as well.
Records show that Portland police detective Jeff Myers, the primary investigator in the Bean case, continues to investigate allegations that there was a "plan to conceal" a key witness in the earlier trial, an allegation first reported by the Portland Tribune in February. The claim was made in a complaint against Deanna Wray, a former Portland lawyer. Wray denies it.
Case revived in January
Lane County prosecutors first filed charges against Bean in 2014, after M.S.G. accused Bean and another man of having sex with him in a Eugene hotel.
Bean proposed a civil compromise with M.S.G., essentially offering him $220,000 to satisfy his grievances.
A judge rejected the proposed compromise, saying it would be inappropriate to civilly settle a child sex abuse case. But Bean privately agreed to pay M.S.G. the same amount outside of the public court proceedings. The criminal case collapsed after M.S.G. refused to testify.
In January 2019, Lane County prosecutors refiled the case against Bean based on renewed cooperation by M.S.G. M.S.G. had the previous fall filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar, which regulates lawyers, complaining that he had not received the full value of his settlement from his lawyer at the time, Lori Deveny — who now also faces a criminal investigation for possible theft of funds.
Adding to the drama are the allegations being made in civil lawsuits.
M.S.G., through his lawyer, Sean Riddell, says Bean's payment to M.S.G. implicitly required the alleged victim not to testify, d that Deveny hid M.S.G. from prosecutors until the 2015 case dissolved.
Bean, however, claims the payment was made only to settle a threatened civil lawsuit — and his motion includes a copy of a threat Deveny's made in 2015 of a $500,000 lawsuit against Bean.
The term SLAPP was coined in the 1980s to refer to a wave of meritless "strategic" lawsuits filed by monied interests to silence cash-poor activists and critics by imposing the high costs of litigation.
Bean's motion contends that in the current case, it is Bean, the wealthy real estate investor, whose ability to express himself and participate in legitimate discussions is under attack.
The motion targets past statements from 2015 by M.S.G. and his lawyer — in which MSG was said to have no interest in testifying — to deny that his refusal to testify was motivated by money.
The motion also attacks the credibility of M.S.G.'s recent lawsuit, which contends the settlement with Bean was agreed to without the alleged victim's knowledge. Bean's brief notes M.S.G.'s complaint against his former attorney, Deveny, complaining that she hadn't paid him the full settlement.
Bean's brief notes that Oregon's anti-SLAPP law is modeled after one of the most liberal anti-SLAPP laws in the nation, that of Caifornia.
The motion claims California's version of the law covers settlement talks, and argues that the burden of proof lies on M.S.G. to prove he was paid off to not testify.
Bean's lawyer calls the lawsuit filed by M.S.G. as "reprehensible" and replete with "tortured logic."
New suit against Bean
Bean's motion was shortly preceded by a new lawsuit against Bean — one that also raises the prospect of whether Bean's money has influenced past court proceedings.
The suit, firt reported by Willamette Week, was filed by a new alleged victim, referred to in court documents as R.J.V. He who is represented by the same lawyer who is representing M.S.G.
The suit claims that Bean had sex with R.J.V. in 2013, when R.J.V. was 17, on three occasions.
Similar allegations were made by an alleged victim with the initials R.J.V. against Bean's now ex-boyfriend, Kiah Lawson, in 2015, leading to an indictment. It appears that the victim in that case is the same man now suing Bean.
In the earlier case, Lawson was acquitted after his lawyer claimed R.J.V. was manipulated by Bean to make the accusation, that R.J.V. wanted to replace Lawson as Bean's boyfriend, and that Bean had given R.J.V. money and gift — though R.J.V. at the time had denied having had sex with Bean to police.
"(Bean) uses his money to buy people," the lawyer, Gabriel Biello told the jury, according to an article in The Oregonian at the time. "He uses his money to get what he wants. He used his money to get Kiah Lawson accused of a crime he didn't commit."
In the same article juror Betty Polson told the reporter, "There was a lot of intrigue behind the scenes. It felt like Mr. Bean was a puppet master."
Internal Multnomah District Attorney records released under Oregon's records law show that the prosecutor involved in that case described R.J.V. in a memo as having "significant credibility issues."
The memo also noted that two other men R.J.V. accused of sex crimes were indicted and convicted, one for 42 months in prison.